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09 September 2011



What you have outlined above is a common misconception of standard work, something that was lost in translation from Japanese to English a long time ago. Standard work in its ideal sense is only half of what you describe above. To engage employees it is imperative that they understand that the first step to standard work is to define the task explicitly, which you have done. The second step is to improve the work using the standard steps you have created. Standard work is not the end all be all "fixed" work, in fact it provides the framework for which you can change the work in a controlled fashion.

Coming from the perspective of manufacturing, we would define the assembly steps similar to the lightswitch demonstration above, and then tweak elements(hand position, switch design, audible confirmation) until we could improve the work and set the new standard work. The standard work became the set point for improvements, a training tool for new workers, and baseline for discussing operations without employee or managerial bias, assuming you both agree on the standard work method.

Without standard work we probably wouldn't have motion sensing lights that completely eliminate the need to train a worker how to turn them on and off.

Too often standard work becomes exactly what you describe above, a rigid, lifeless, pursuit of process mapping without regard for improvement. Standard work should provoke questions, it should challenge a team to decide the "best" way to accomplish a task, it should not be wallpaper, and it should not be the end of your project, it is the start.

Jim Benson

@David, I totally agree. The point of understanding standard work is to find what processes are formally or informally standardized. Then make determinations for improvement.

Improvement here implies that standard work isn't fixed.

But the perversion I see is most often is the rigid, lifeless automaton goal.

Jeff Smith

Surely in standard work, we set the basis for being done... we name agreements we have made with each other; but it is a minimum standard, not so much seeking out simple conformity - but a goal that is not realized without focus and collaboration.

That said, having a certain level of code coverage is just a soul-less number... that is just conformity. We always must reach. Seeking also to exceed - to produce a compelling customer experience, an elegant improvement, a new idea yielding advantage... to produce something memorable - something to be proud of... we must also have this.

The source of enthusiasm for our work, the willingness to take risks, and the eye for excellence - surely are the domain of leadership. Maybe we have some individuals that help by shining a light when times are challenging. Killing the spirit of the team is rarely in the process - but in how we engage and encourage each other. The process gets better almost naturally if we do this part right. The self-actualization part - the connection with the group, with something meaningful and bigger than ourselves... I don't think processes can give us these. Nor can simply managing to the task...

Standard work is just a tool - the failing is rarely in the tool. Ours should not be simply a mechanical or technical venture - it should be a human adventure also; It may be hard to provide for the already downtrodden... but giving the work some measure of challenge and excitement again has to be the path forward.

Jeff Smith

Surely also, if we ever find ourselves feeling a little too much like mere cattle, it is past time to stand up - burst forth with a loud "Moo!" - and get a conversation started. Choose the safe word of your choice :-)

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